Meat production takes its toll

Click here for a Good Dirt Radio 5-minute eco-spot on meat production.

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manure_750 (Photo credit: clocker)

Among the biggest contributors to climate change is industrialized food production, its long distance transport and systemic use of toxic, oil based fertilizers and pesticides. Large, industrial feedlots produce mass quantities of meat for humans but also rely on steroids and antibiotics and GMO and animal waste food, causing large-scale pollution. And many buy it, making industrial beef production systems one of the biggest causes of climate change. Tune in to hear about a few commonly available choices that can help lower your meat carbon footprint.

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Read transcript below.

Welcome to Good Dirt Radio, reporting on positive solutions…taking root.

Crystal clear skies, sparkling clean rivers and healthy eco-systems are not partisan matters.   Everyone benefits from a healthy, natural world.  And because climate change is caused by more consumer based activities then we can count, most anyone can choose to reduce their carbon footprint to help minimize atmosphere changing pollution.

Among the biggest contributors to climate change is industrialized food production, with its long distance transport and systemic use of toxic, oil based fertilizers and pesticides.  Large, industrial feedlots produce mass quantities of meat for humans but also rely on
steroids, antibiotics, GMO and animal waste food, causing large-scale pollution.  And many buy it, making industrial beef production systems one of the biggest causes of climate change.

Laurie Guevara-Stone is an engineer from Boulder, CO, specializing in renewable and clean energy.  She works as International Program Manager for Solar Energy International to understand the climate change crisis and says eating just a little less meat can actually help reduce atmospheric pollution.

Guevara-Stone:  There’s a lot of awareness about energy these days and when people think about energy conservation they shouldn’t just think about what kinds of light bulbs you are using or what kind of car you drive but also your diet.  And meat has one of the highest embodied energies of all types of foods because of the amount of energy that’s required to feed, transport, slaughter and process the cattle or the other livestock animals.  It actually takes about 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef.  And so all the fertilizers and pesticides that go into that grain, that adds up to a lot of embodied energy.  Switching to a vegetarian diet can shrink a person’s carbon footprint by up to 1 1/2 tons of carbon dioxide a year.  The family of four that gives up eating beef one day a week, only, has basically traded their pick-up for a Prius.    

We also talked to David Sniekus a chef and whole foods expert from Newton MA.   He says a plant-based diet helps sequester carbon from the atmosphere and is a way everyone can reduce pollution related to eating habits.

Sniekus:  Selecting a whole-foods, plant-based, local diet can reduce your carbon footprint.   The more plants you eat, the more farmers will grow food for you. That sequesters carbon dioxide from the environment.  Its called photosynthesis.  It’s a natural way for carbon dioxide to be taken out of the environment and used for our food.   

But beef-eaters have another choice.  Across the nation, farmers and ranchers produce grass-fed beef from healthy soils using natural systems that create far less pollution and much healthier meat for humans than industrial feedlots. Joel Salatin, from Poly Face farms in the Shenandoah Valley, VA, has perfected the art.

Salatin:  Our cows are moved everyday to a fresh paddock, a fresh salad bar, we call it, and they’re all grass finished.  We’re not feeding them dead cows, dead chickens, chicken manure, or grain or silage.  They’re grazing right off the grass, off the stock, harvesting, they’re  recycling the bio-mass, solar energy basically, and fermenting it and turning it into good tasting, healthy product.  The next thing is stacking, just symbiosis between species.   So we follow the cows with the egg-mobiles, like the egret on the rhino’s nose, where the birds are biological sanitizers behind the cows. And another example is just that the animals do the work.  Like when we make compost in the wintertime and the cows are on hay, they’re under an awning that has a carbonaceous diaper underneath them to absorb the urine and the manure.  Its fermenting because they’re packing out the oxygen so its anaerobic.  We add corn to it.  The corn ferments in there so when the cows go out in the spring, we put in pigs, we call them pig-aerators, because then they till through that, finding and eating the fermented corn and oxygenate or aerate, pig-aerators, OK, aerate that compost.

Salatin says folks making better food choices can help change broken food systems.

Salatin: We encourage people to patronize their own local food supply, their own local farmers. And if everyone who could do that would do that, it would fundamentally change the flow and the pattern of the flow of food in the US.

For more ideas on how to reduce causes of climate change related to your life, please visit us at gooddirtradio.org.  Reports are always free to download and share.

I’m Tom Bartels and I’m Tami Graham.  Thanks for joining us on Good Dirt Radio, digging up good news…. for a change.

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